Haters gonna hate as young women tackle body image at Dublin workshops

Leadership and body image discussed at Through the Looking Glass workshops

 Sinéad Burke at the National Women’s Council of Ireland meeting. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Sinéad Burke at the National Women’s Council of Ireland meeting. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

“The next Mary Robinson could be sitting in this room,” says Shauna Kelly, pointing at a large framed photograph of Ireland’s former president. “Robinson is the patron saint of Irish women,” she says.

Kelly is taking part in the Through the Looking Glass workshops, which kicked off in Smithfield, Dublin on Saturday.

The workshops, which move to Cork on June 26th, give women aged between 16 and 24 the chance to say what they think about body image and how it may affect their ability to be leaders.

Listening, you can only hope one of them will make it through. They should.

According to Louise Glennon, women-in-leadership officer with the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI), “Women outperform men in schools and universities across Ireland, yet men are overrepresented in all leadership positions, from the Dáil to the boardroom to senior management.”

She says the workshops aim to “to encourage young women to see themselves as leaders in their lives in some way”.

By the age of 24, she says, “these young women will last outperform their male counterparts. This is not because women are less capable or less willing.”

Young women are certainly not less capable, but they are up against it, she adds.

During the workshop, Sarah Clarkin, NWCI communications officer, tweets a picture of sign she has put up that says: “Love yourself, lead the world.”

“Narcissists”, is the tweet back.

The tweeter thinks the young women at the workshop are probably all taking selfies. Body image? Leadership? Who do they think they are?

They laugh.

There’s only one woman to quote at a time like this. “And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate.” Thank you Taylor Swift. The laughter ruptures the rafters.

The room is full of talk of role models. Malala Yousafzai, Mrs Justice Susan Denham, JK Rowling, Laverne Cox, Nicki Minaj. But, most of all, the women’s mothers – and some of their dads.

There is one obsession, though. Ms K Kardashian. Kim says she “would take a bullet for Kim”. The fact that they share the same name has nothing to do with it, she assures us.

The room is perfectly split. “Team Kim” admires Kardashian’s savvy business sense and dignity in the eye of the sex-tape storm. The others admit she is beautiful, but are concerned she is part of the problem.

“She homogenises female beauty,” says Kayleigh. “She has that tiny waist, so she appeals to people who like small women, yet she has a big booty, so she appeals to another group.” That feeds the media obsession with how women look, she says.

In the end, they agree to disagree, but there’s no denying Kardashian has filled the room. Not just with her well-exposed buttocks, but with laughter and joy.

About to fill the room is Sinéad Burke. According to Panti, the 24-year-old is the “alternative Miss Ireland emeritus”. She won as Snow White in 2014 when then contest was last held.

The primary school teacher is currently doing a PhD at Trinity College Dublin.

If anyone has thought about body image, it is Sinéad. “You could call me a little person,” she says. “I tend to think of myself as Sinéad Burke.”

She welcomes all talk of issues around body image. “Being this size has definitely morphed my body image, but it gives me a sense of empathy with all women who are worrying about it.”

Burke has the young women in the room hanging on her every word. We need to move to a place where “size isn’t so important”, she tells them.

The room is full of issues that are so important to young women. Schools making girls take off make-up in front of the class when they have put it on to cover up the spots that are making them be so quiet in class. Bad hair days that make young women cower and shy away from engagement in the office.

Burke is optimistic that all this shall pass.

“I think Ireland is having a social revolution at the moment and things can change.”

If anyone is going to change them it’s Sinéad and Nonnie and Beulah and Diana and Aisling and Bobbie and Katie and Gráinne and Kim and Laura and Jennifer and. . .